FEATURE: How Sheffield helped widow to have children using her dead husband's sperm

A widow who fought for the right to have children using her dead husband's sperm has spoken about her extraordinary journey from fierce courtroom battles to blissful motherhood.

Teenage sweethearts Diane and Stephen Blood had been trying for children when he was tragically struck down with meningitis.

Diane Blood arrives at Sheffield register Office with her sons, Joel, and Liam to officially register their birth's with their fathers name in 2003.

Diane Blood arrives at Sheffield register Office with her sons, Joel, and Liam to officially register their birth's with their fathers name in 2003.

As he laying dying in a coma, Diane arranged for sperm samples to be taken in the hope that she could one day bear his children.

But because Stephen had not given written consent for the procedure, Diane was initially prohibited from going through with fertility treatment.

The tale of a grieving widow fighting against the odds to have her deceased hubby's children captured the world's imagination.

And after several years of courtroom battles she won the legal right to give birth to her husband's children, and Liam and Joel arrived soon after.

Diane holding a press conference during her campaign at Royal Hallamshire Hospital in 2002.

Diane holding a press conference during her campaign at Royal Hallamshire Hospital in 2002.

Two decades on from the dramatic ordeal, Diane shared a stage for the first time with son Liam and the medical and legal specialists who helped her to win the case.

Together they gave a never-before-told behind the scenes account of the historic legal battle during a talk entitled 'Life after Death: A woman's victory in having her deceased husband's children' at the University of Sheffield's Arts Tower earlier tonight.

A packed crowd of about 200 people heard how by going against conventional wisdom, Diane, professor Ian Cooke, an obstetrician and gynaecologist involved in her care, and Michael Fordham QC, a key member of her legal team, turned her dream of becoming a mother into a reality.

Diane, aged in her 50s, of Worksop, who described becoming a mother as her 'greatest achievement' told the audience: "I was 'Mrs Average' and then my life took a dramatic turn and I became a rebel.

Diane Blood arrives at Sheffield register Office with her sons, Joel, and Liam to officially register their birth's with their fathers name in 2003.

Diane Blood arrives at Sheffield register Office with her sons, Joel, and Liam to officially register their birth's with their fathers name in 2003.

"Stephen had an extremely rapid death and I had to ask for what we wanted very quickly. Everybody put the things in motion that started a huge legal battle."

Following Stephen's death aged just 30 at Sheffield's Royal Hallamshire Hospital in 1995, Diane's decision to ask doctors to extract sperm from her husband caused some controversy and led to questions over how far doctors are pushing the boundaries of fertility treatment.

But Diane said she was always determined that this was the right thing to do – as it is what her husband would have wanted.

She said: "He was quite keen on a big family, it was something we always discussed."

Liam and Diane Blood.

Liam and Diane Blood.

The audience heard how she never lost faith in her determination to succeed even though she was up against it on a legal standing.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority banned her from using the frozen sperm as her husband had not given written consent.

But in February 1997, three High Court judges ruled that while she could not be treated in the UK, she did have the right to export the sperm to Belgium, where she later underwent fertility treatment.

In the years that followed Liam was born at Sheffield's Jessop's Hospital in 1998, and Joel arrived soon after in 2002.

Central to the legal fight was the fact that the couple had previously discussed the possibility of ways to have children if one parent dies.

Said Diane: "My husband and I had read a story in a newspaper about another couple who it happened to, We said 'would you have a baby after someone had died?"

From l to r:- Evening chair Allan Pacey, Diane Blood, Liam Blood, Joel Blood, prof Ian Cooke and Michael Fordham QC.

From l to r:- Evening chair Allan Pacey, Diane Blood, Liam Blood, Joel Blood, prof Ian Cooke and Michael Fordham QC.

Michael Fordham QC said this point was key to succeeding in their courtroom battle.

He said: "We could say from the start that this accorded with Stephen's wishes, because they had discussed this very scenario."

Mr Fordham praised prof Cooke, who arranged for the sperm to be stored in accordance with Diane's wishes even though he had been advised to dispose of it.

The lawyer, who is now godfather to Diane's two boys, said: "Sometimes rules are stupid and sometimes the right thing to do is to break them, and the result of them breaking the rules was Liam."

Describing why he did not dispose of the sperm even though he was advised by the authorities to do so, Prof Cooke said: "I thought I have one chance here, it seemed rational out of sheer humanity that I should do this (support Diane)."

However, the legal fight to give birth to Stephen's sons did not stop there as Diane had to initially register the children as illegitimate as laws stated that a man cannot be named as the father of a child if his sperm was used after his death.

But the High Court ruled that the law was "incompatible" with the European Convention on Human Rights, and Diane won another landmark case to have Stephen's name added to the birth certificates.

Diane praised people in the Steel City for helping her to get through those difficult times.

She said: "I did not know how the public would feel about it but I was blown over. I still have the boxes of letters and cards. I was overwhelmed by the public's support."

Liam, now aged 18, accepted he and his brother had been involved in a unique upbringing but told how he has always felt his father's presence despite never meeting him.

He said: "It was never a case of I knew him and lost him, in a way he has always been there. Even though I never met him, I feel like I know who he was."